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Friday, November 29, 2019

Thanksgiving and an Quasi-Almost-Anti-Giving-Thanks Post

This is Thanksgiving time, and I’m supposed to write a posting about the many reasons why I am thankful.  Granted that I do have many, many reasons to be thankful, but if you think about it though, that’s almost self-serving, to the point of seeming to brag to others about just how wonderful life has been.  What to do?  Well, I can’t really call this an “anti-Thanksgiving” post, but I am going to do something different:  Instead of writing about the good things I am thankful for, I am going to instead write about a crappy thing that ended.

Specifically, I spend an unhealthy amount of time thinking about where my professional life has taken me since being involuntarily retired in December 2016, from an employer that I thought would take me well into my 60’s.  There have been some good things happen on that front, including meeting some great folks & discovering some new things about myself.  There have also been some bad…genuinely bad…things happen as well.  To that latter point, I feel guilty for having been previously associated with an organization that, in my opinion, was not good for me, for my community, for people I call friends.  I went from a nearly 28-year association with an organization I am proud of (still to this day) to one where I can barely speak the name.  It’s as if I contributed to something unhealthy, and I need to apologize for some nebulous damage by the association I may have caused, knowing full well that some of the damage was, in fact, to myself.

Part of the above damage included an almost constant inner dialogue…

“This seems wrong, why are you a part of it?”
“This contradicts a lot of what you personally value”
”You are not valued here and this is demeaning”
”You need to just quit”

…conflicting with…

“I need to work, and just leaving will make me feel worse”
”It would be wrong to bail on my co-workers”

I know, it’s all so very circular. 

In yet another example of cosmic synchronicity, that job ended, and another opportunity became available.  These days I have the luxury of no longer living a daily professional life of contradiction, but instead, I can ponder it from the past tense.  Now I have the ability maybe help make something better, as opposed to being associated with something that (in just my personal opinion) made things worse.  My professional night has literally turned into a professional day.

Within this larger story, there are, as is usually the case, many mini-stories:
  • There’s the story about my learning the value of networking.
  • There’s the story about my leaning into the discomfort of change.
  • There is the story of learning to take pride in some of my accomplishments.
  • There’s a story of practicing humility in the only way it truly makes being made humble.

All of this may change in the blink of an eye.  Or it may stay the same for the next ten years.  One thing is for sure though:  There is more to be learned.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Scranton's Teachers, Learning a (Biblical) Lesson

"Do not be deceived:  God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap."
(Galatians, Chapter 6 - Verse 7)

As noted in a recent Scranton Times article (link HERE), unionized teachers in the Scranton School Distract are upset.  You can read the article for the particulars, but that's not the point of this posting.  Rather, and as noted above, this is about a lesson of almost biblical proportions.

For decades, unionized teachers in the Scranton School District financially supported and campaigned for school board candidates are where, at best, incompetent.  At worst?  Well, according to the Pennsylvania Attorney General, there is more to come on the "at worst" front (link HERE).  It was this history of union-supported candidates who...

...drove the district to insolvency & at the doorstep of a state takeover
...approved to no-bid, dramatically over-priced, busing contracts
...allowed a non-employee to receive employee healthcare benefits
...looked the other way as a former Business Administrator was committing felonies

...and I could go on (and on), but the point is made.  Call me unsympathetic, but the union knew exactly who they were supporting, and what these individuals stood for, such as no-bid busing contacts.  What was the underlying thought process of union leadership?  That the money would never stop flowing, so what's some graft here or there?  Maybe it was that "better the known and incompetent than the alternative"?

Now the teachers' union has an absolute right to support the political candidates who they believe will benefit its membership.  They don't, however, have a right to be exempt from the rightful criticism that comes with aiding and abetting (at best) incompetence.  What's called for here is an examination on the part of the union leadership as to their role in the downfall of the Scranton School District and how such a role can be prevented in the future. The teachers' union is just one of many with dirty hands in the sorry state that is the Scranton School District; as learning professionals, they should be at the forefront of culling some important lessons from it all.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Free Range Human

Greetings from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

I'm here in a nice hotel room, having checked my company email for the last time today.  Tomorrow starts the two flights that will eventually bring me back home.  Since I've washed the travel off of me (literally...I just got out of one of those "far too long in the shower, but what the heck, it's a hotel room"), I'm left to here to either watch TV (which I don't like to do), organize files (which I don't want to do) or write.  As you can see, writing won.

Speaking of writing, I'm not publishing stuff on this blog as frequently as I used to.  I still do write, almost daily, as a matter of fact, but most of that stuff isn't fit for even this cheesy attempt at public introspection.  I feel a bit guilty about the whole not writing as much thing, by the way.  Guilty not because I somehow feel it is being missed, but guilty because this is a kind of commitment I made to myself back in 2008, and I should be doing a better job of honoring it.  Yes, that's one of the hundred or so thoughts pinging around in my head at the moment.  I'll be spelling out some more (literally) shortly.  Guilt aside, at least I am writing this posting.

The above is a kind of in I am stalling.  One of the things bothering me is the fact that a fellow Pru alumni, fellow blogger, and terrific human being, the author of the blog "Lights Cancer Action!" disclosed that she has a reoccurrence of breast cancer.  You can find her blog on the listing to the right of this screed, as well as a link to the specific posting HERE.  I'm not going to say much about her story, as you can learn about it from her blog, but I am going to say that there are times when I just really don't understand the cruelty of life.  Cruel, as in a third cancer diagnosis.  Cruel, as in children being tortured by drug-addicted parents (link HERE).  Cruel, as in the abuse of animals who only offer us unconditional love (link HERE).  Yes, I am bothered by all of this, and more.  I know that life offers us opportunities to learn in ways that we never really expect, but there are times when I wish the lessons weren't quite so painful.

Maybe I need to take another one of those "washing away showers".  Then again, if I shower once more today, my skill may actually start to flake off, en masse.  The joys of the heating season I guess.

Trying to move on, this was my third to trip to my employer's office in Fairfield, Iowa.  For some reason, they seem to not mind my visits, and for that...and the advice on local places to eat...I am grateful.  I am also grateful, in general, to my employer for providing me with work that (hopefully) has a positive impact.  That was...and is...important to me, and is something of a lesson learned from my last employer/micro-disaster.  I am not sure when I am coming back, but I am sure it will be sooner or later.

By the way, and as both a final point and explanation for the title of this posting, I'm wearing this shirt for my trip tomorrow.

For some reason, it seems fitting.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Tips for (In)frequent Business Travelers

From the temporary office in Fairfield, Iowa.

Tip:  When it comes to hotels, you get what you pay for (sort of).
Without mentioning names, I've been in hotels that cost $250 a night and those that cost $60 a night.  The big differences?
  • Food.  The food is better at the expensive places.  I'm currently staying at a "lower end of the scale" hotel this week, and I was sure that I would end up projectile vomiting my breakfast yesterday morning (the eggs smelled kind of, well, funny).  So far my immune system seems to be ruling the day.  
  • Decor.  Everything in my current hotel room seems to be tinted a dull yellow.  I'm not sure if that's the horrible compact florescent light bulbs in use, baked into the paint cigarette smoke (this place is in pre-smoking ban older), or just yellow-ish paint.  The completely yellow-themed bathroom doesn't help.
  • Sound.  I could literally transcribe the voicemail I heard from the room next to me last night.
There's one not-so-universal caveat to this rule though:  Water pressure.  I've been in higher-end hotel rooms where water basically just oozed out of the showerhead.  In my current room, I am reasonably sure that I could strip paint off of an automobile fender with the pressure available (this is a good thing).

Tip:  Never, ever leave anything on the floor.
I was told this back in the early '90s.  Maybe it's an urban legend, but the idea is that anything left on a hotel room floor may end up becoming a transportation vehicle to your home for some kind of unwanted critter guest.  I even keep my shoes off of the floor.

Tip:  Ziplock bags are your friend.
I always keep an extra ziplock bag with me when I travel.  Use them to store the extra batteries you had to get at WallyWorld last night.  Or keep the above-mentioned critters from eating that half of a candy bar you also bought at WallyWorld last night.

Side note:  Forget fancy pill containers...I now just use three ziplock bags.  I use a big bag with two smaller bags inside of it (one for morning stuff, one for evening stuff).  The advantage?  I can easily find a nook or cranny in my backpack for the stuff I am taking.

Tip:  Bring a spoon.
I always have a spoon in my toiletry bag.  It comes in handy in case you, well, need a spoon.  Seriously, for example, if you bring something into your room to eat or if you are old and need to mix your Metamucil.

Tip:  Don't connect through Chicago O'Hare.
I've been violating this tip lately, and I'm sure at some point there will be a punishment administered.  According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Chicago O'Hare has an on-time rating of about 80%.  That means there is a 1 in 5 chance that your flight will be delayed or even canceled.  All it takes is one forced overnight stay in an airport to learn why this is a bad thing.  In addition to the Russian Roulette of on-time departures, O'Hare can be over-crowded and filled with nasty people (Why? They got the 20% previously referenced).

Tip:  Airports are food Hell.
Airport food is dramatically over-priced and rarely any good.  I've tried to get healthier food (well, healthier by my...low...standards) and have always been disappointed.  Want a hot drink for Starbucks?  Well, if you are at Chicago O'Hare and your flight is delayed, you may just have time to wait through the line.  Otherwise?  You're out of luck.

Tip:  Checking your bag isn't so dangerous.
I've been traveling for almost 30 years and do occasionally check my bag.  The number of times I've actually had a checked bag lost?  Exactly zero.  The number of times a bag has been delayed?  Exactly twice.  You have to be smart about this though; for example, never pack medications or expensive electronics in a checked bag.  It's actually pretty nice not having to lug a bag through an airport.

Tip:  Spring for First Class every once in a while.
Every once in a while I will spend an extra $70 (or so) of my own money and upgrade to a First Class seat.  After a long and tiring trip, it's sometimes down-right demoralizing to cram yourself into a seat with enough leg-room for a dwarf and less than an inch of cushioning for your posterior.  First-class is like another world of airplane travel.  There is actually room.  The seats aren't (seemingly) 18" wide.